Voters in California overwhelmingly voted No on Prop 37, which would have required labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals that had been genetically modified in some way. It also prohibited the marketing of such food, or other processed food, as “natural.”
The final vote has yet to be tallied, but even early returns hinted that the measure would be defeated: With 11% of precincts reporting, some 58% of voters opposed the question, while only 42% supported it.
The proposition received a lot of attention throughout the food industry, with food policy activists enlisting the support of celebrities and posting videos to YouTube (see below), while manufacturers and large supermarket chains bankrolled a massive, $45 million public relations campaign to shift public opinion to the No column.
As it grew increasingly clear that the measure would go down in defeat, talk shifted to what the impact would be after the election. Would the California campaign ignite a national debate? Could Congress or federal regulators take up the cause?
The short answer is — like the California results — No. GMO labeling advocates have made October "Non-GMO Month"; they’ve marched from New York to the White House with a petition; and now they’ve gotten a ballot question directly before voters. While each event, in and of itself, has raised awareness, the groundswell of support necessary to tip the scales hasn't materialized. The FDA has determined that GMOs are not a danger to the food supply, and consumers are already consuming many products containing GMO ingredients (By 2010, 93% of the U.S. farm land for soybeans was devoted to GM crops, 86% for corn and 95% for sugar beets).
What’s next for the Non GMO movement? It’s hard to say, but it’s likely there won’t be any labeling regulations coming anytime soon. In California, consumers chose to believe the opposition who claimed that GMO labeling would increase a family’s food bill by $400 a year and trip up farmers with a tangle of red tape.
After all this effort — the roundtables, the marches, the petitions, the endorsements — there’s little to show for it. Sure, in polls shoppers state they support labeling, but the reality is they don’t seem to care enough to even pass a regulation in a single state.
Instead of trying to convince consumers to care, it might be time to spend the money elsewhere, promoting organic foods, local farmers markets and other categories and venues where GMOs are already forbidden, or uninvited.